Saturday, September 28, 2019

"The Professor of Immortality"

Eileen Pollack graduated with a BS in physics from Yale and earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa. She is the author of the novels The Bible of Dirty Jokes, A Perfect Life, Breaking and Entering, and Paradise, New York, the short-story collections In the Mouth and The Rabbi in the Attic, and the nonfiction books The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club and Woman Walking Ahead: In Search of Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull.

Pollack applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Professor of Immortality, and reported the following:
Maxine Sayers is the founder and director of the fictional Institute for Future Studies at the very real University of Michigan, where I’ve taught creative writing for the past 25 years. When a Unabomber-like terrorist publishes his manifesto, she begins to suspect it was written by her former student. As the plot unspools, Maxine needs to decide if she should share her suspicion with the FBI, a decision complicated by her affection for that former student and his friendship with her son.

I hope the suspense keeps readers hooked even as Maxine explores the questions the bomber raises in his manifesto. While she deplores his use of violence, she, too, wonders how we might respond to advances in science and technology that threaten to destroy our privacy and our environment and might result in the deaths of millions of people and wipe out countless other species.

Page 69 marks a quiet spot in the novel, as Maxine remembers her father’s early influence on her career. Having been trained as a radio technician in WWII, her father returns home to open a TV sales and repair shop. His predictions about the future fascinate Maxine, and she grows up helping him in the shop. When he dies of a faulty heart valve, she decides to become an engineer,
a field for which she seemed uniquely prepared by all the years she had spent acquiring skills even her male lab partners envied.

The problem was, she had loved tinkered at her father’s bench because she had loved tinkering beside her father. The smell of soldered lead caused her eyes to tear up from a longing to feel her father’s arms around her as he guided her hands on the red-hot iron. Without him, she hadn’t a clue what gadget to invent. She considered changing majors. But what would she change her major to?
Rather than invent new gadgets, Maxine decides she will study the effects brought about by the inventions of others. Later, Maxine becomes obsessed with the changes that drastically extended lifetimes—perhaps even immortality—might create for the human race. Although I came to my own interest in future studies through a slightly different route—as a child, I was told that girls couldn’t grow up to be scientists or mathematicians, so I earned a degree in physics. And yet, page 69 does capture at least some of my reasons for writing this book. Why are we letting so many young straight white men design and evaluate the technology that will shape the future? Where are the voices of all the rest of us, who will need to live in that future, too?
Visit Eileen Pollack's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Perfect Life.

--Marshal Zeringue